All posts by Dan Milne

The Martian

The Martian‘ is the first published novel by Andy Weir.  It was originally self-published in 2011, after which Crown Publishing purchased the rights.  It was published in 2014 and the movie is scheduled to be released on October 2nd.  So you have the opportunity to read the book first!  It’s about a NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who is left stranded on Mars when the crew of the Ares 3 mission are forced to leave.  With no way to contact Earth, Watney must rely on his scientific and technical skills to survive, growing potatoes in the crew’s Martian habitat (or Hab) and burning hydrazine to make water. He begins to record his experiences so that they might prove useful for future explorers after his death. NASA discovers that Watney is alive when satellite images pick up human activity and they begin a plan to rescue him.  This book is the perfect Father’s day gift.

Here’s the film trailer.  It looks ah-mazing!

If that’s doesn’t get you interested, here’s Mythbuster Adam Savage interviewing author Andy Weir:



Facebook Login is Live!

For those users who like the ease of using their Facebook account to log in to other services, we have good news.  Booko now allows you to create a Booko account and log in via Facebook.  We’ve added it to the list of existing login systems, plus given the whole page a bit of a polish.



If Facebook knows your email address, we’ll attempt to match that to your Booko account.  So, if your Facebook email matches your Booko email address, you’ll be logged into your existing Booko account.

Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Following Google Webmaster suggestions

On January 25th this year, I updated Booko to display more descriptive page titles and added content to meta-description tags along with several other meta-tags. The meta-description tags now say stuff like:

Prices (including delivery) for I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson range from $25.19 at Bookworld up to $44.55. ISBN: 9781742612577

Here’s a graph of the number of Booko pages indexed by Google :

Google Index Status of Booko
Total pages indexed in Google

The number of pages which Google index on Booko had been steadily falling for several months – after providing much better, distinct page titles and meta data, the number of pages indexed has steadily grown.

Google Webmaster (Optimization -> HTML Improvements ) had been alerting me that Booko had a high number of “Duplicate meta descriptions” – taking their advice seems to have increased the number of Booko’s pages in Google index.  That can only be good right?

Know what you’re measuring

At Booko, we use New Relic to measure performance.  When deploying a new change, it’s good to watch New Relic and see how performance is impacted by the latest changes.

Recently we fixed a bug related to the list functionality of Booko.  Every browser viewing Booko polls the servers for the price of the user’s list every two seconds until the prices are up-to-date.  The bug caused the browser to poll when there was no need to – essentially making every browser hit Booko every two seconds.   These requests were really fast to respond to – essentially with the message “You’re good – no change, stop talking to me.”.   After fixing this bug, here’s what New Relic displayed:

Bug fix makes things worse?
Bug fix makes things worse?

The bug fix went in at 13:40-something.  Apparently response times shot up from < 200ms to ~ 600ms.  What happened?

I think the hint is in the Throughput graph.  RPM dropped from 2000 / minute to somewhere around 200. I suspect that New Relic averages your response times and since we removed 90% of requests which were all fast, the average response time jumped up and the Apdex score crashed down from Awesome to Meh.

All this just reinforces that it’s good to know what you’re measuring.  The average response time is interesting, but in this case the average was not representative of Booko user experience.

Using Booko on the iPhone

One of the most requested features we get at Booko is an iPhone app for scanning books.

After doing some research, I’ve discovered the free ZBar Barcode Reader for iPhone.  ZBar lets you set URLs to open after doing the scanning.  Here’s how you set it up so you can scan a book and get the Booko page.

Download the ZBar application from iTunes and start it up:

Hit the camera icon and scan a barcode.  The ISBN will be scanned and a web page will open:

Hit the “Barcode” navigation and head back to the Barcode Detail page.  Hit Edit:

Scroll to the bottom of the list and hit “Add new Link”.  Fill the details. For URL enter:{ISBN-13}

Save the new link, then drag the new Booko link to the top of the list :

Hit “Done”.  Now when scanning books or DVDs, Booko will pop up immediately.


Price Alerts

Booko users now have an awesome new feature: price alerts.  If you’re logged into Booko, you’ll see see some new text on product pages – “Click here to create an alert for this product”.  Clicking this will allow you to set an alert price. If Booko sees this product at or below your alert price, it will email you to let you know.

You’ll also find a new Manage Alerts section in the User Menu on the left hand side. This is where you can modify the alert price, as well as activate, de-activate or delete an alert.

Booko is set up to check the prices daily, but we may push that out to weekly if the load gets too high.  If you’re interested in what’s popular, the top 50 alerts can be seen here.

Alert for AbeBook users:

Epsilon Informs AbeBooks of E-mail Database Breach

We have been informed by Epsilon, a third-party vendor we use to send e-mails, that an unauthorized person outside their company accessed files that included e-mail addresses of some AbeBooks customers. Epsilon has advised us that the files that were accessed did not include any customer information other than email addresses.

As a reminder, AbeBooks will never ask customers for personal or account information in an e-mail. Please exercise caution if you get any emails that ask for personal information or direct you to a site where you are asked to provide personal information.

Australians cop it again

As if it’s not bad enough that whining Australian billionaires are complaining that international stores don’t have to pay GST, companies which can enforce regional pricing are going to town on Australian buyers.  Apple’s just released their new Mac App Store – the Mac equivalent of the iTunes store already available for iPhone / iPad / iPod devices.  Apple have regional pricing all worked out, so if you think we’ll catch a break with their latest online shopping experience, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Take one of my favourite Mac apps – Omnigraffle. Buying it direct from Omnigroup is $199 USD ~= $200.672 AUD

If you’re in North America and you use the Mac App Store US : $199 USD ~= $200.672 AUD

If you’re in the UK Mac App Store – $199 USD ~= $200.672 AUD

If you’re in the Finnish Mac App Store : €149.99 ~= $194.843 AUD

If you’re lucky enough to buy from the Australian Mac App Store, you’ll pay a whopping $249.00 AUD. That’s a 25% premium for living in the lucky country.   See JoshuaGan’s post for more info. (Update: This issue is mentioned in an Omnigroup blog post.)

It’s not just Apple though – check the Steam prices

Call of Duty:  Black Ops from the various international stores:

The UK Steam store : £39.99 GBP ~= $62.058 AUD

The US Steam store : $59.99 USD ~= $60.428 AUD

The Finnish Steam store:  €59.99 EUR ~= $78.447 AUD

And last, (and the opposite of least) the Australian Steam store : $89.99 USD ~= $90.647 AUD

The Steam prices are probably caused by Australian distributors taking some obscene cut. COD4: Black Ops is $89 AUD at both KMart and JB HiFi.